NAGPUR: Leg-spinner Amit Mishra struck twin blows to remove the dogged duo of Hashim Amla and Faf Du Plessis as India moved a step closer towards series victory restricting South Africa to 151 for six at tea on the third day of the third cricket Test, here today.
At the tea break, JP Duminy (15 batting) and wicketkeeper Dane Vilas (2 batting) were at the crease, still needing 159 runs for a series-levelling win.
Mishra struck twin blows in a space of six deliveries in successive overs in the post lunch session to put a spanner on the slim South African hopes after Amla (39) and Du Plessis (39) stonewalled the Indian bowling with a fifth wicket stand of 72 runs.
The pair, who came together in the first hour before lunch, held on till the second hour after the break by defending stoutly against the spinning ball before Mishra broke the stand by dismissing Amla with a classical leg-break to have the rival skipper caught by a leaping home team captain Virat Kohli at short gully.
Amla, who had scored 253 at this ground in a winning cause five years ago, had kept the Indians at bay for 219 minutes and hit just 2 fours in his 167-ball knock.
Du Plessis, who showed admirable patience till his skipper's departure, lost it five balls later when he played an ill-advised pull shot to a ball that kept low from Mishra and hit the middle stump.
These two dismissals have reduced whatever little hopes the visitors had of reaching the far-away target and keep the series alive even on a pitch that still aided spin but seemed to have lost some venom of the first two days.
The home team's bowlers were kept at bay by the tone-walling tactics of Amla and Du Plessis resulting in the post-lunch hour of play producing a measly 21 runs in 19 overs.
The duo, in the process, came up with the longest partnership of the series overtaking the one between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara in the series opener at Mohali.
Du Plessis, having been let off once in the first session, survived a close call early on in the second session. He was struck on the pad by Ashwin in the first over after resumption and the strong appeal by the Indians was turned down.
Ashwin changed ends and started bowling from the pavilion end, but started bowling a bit fast and did not trouble the defense-minded batsmen to the extent he did earlier, on a track that has slowed down a bit.
Jadeja and Mishra could also not make much of an impression on the two batsmen intent on defense eschewing risks.
The duo had batted together for seven minutes under three hours when Mishra produced a looping leg break to catch the edge of Amla's defensive bat.
This was the break that the hosts wanted after the show of defiance and came only in the second hour of the post lunch session and Mishra's figures read an impressive 3 for 40 at tea, his first wicket having come yesterday in the form of night watchman Imran Tahir.
In the morning, chasing the formidable victory target of 310 set by the hosts last evening to stay alive in the series, the visitors slumped to 58 for four, losing two second innings wickets this morning to the two conceded yesterday, before showing some fight to take the visitors to lunch at 105 for 4.
Ashwin was the lone Indian bowler to taste success in the morning by accounting for the two wickets to fall – overnight not out batsman Dean Elgar for 18 and the visitors’ major hope A B de Villiers for 9 in the space of 18 balls with classical off-spinner's thought process.
The Tamil Nadu spinner's first spell of the day was an impressive 5-0-15-2 before he finished with 3 for 50 at tea.
Later, India could have sent back Amla, who had notched 253 at this venue in 2010 when South Africa emerged winners by an innings, as well as du Plessis too as both were given 'lives' by the fielders.
Ishant, coming on for a second spell, got du Plessis (5 out of 79 for 4) to edge between the 'keeper and slip fielder and then Amla (23 out of 83 for 4) drove at Mishra expansively and Rahane could not pouch the low catch in slips.
The duo then took the team to lunch without being separated with du Plessis even hitting a six off Ravindra Jadeja's left-arm spin.